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From Verdun to London

European reconciliation and its achievements are the best reason to vote for the EU

Hollande and Merkel embrace at Verdun.
Hollande and Merkel embrace at Verdun.MATHIEU CUGNOT (EFE)

The scene of one of the bloodiest battles in European history was a more than pertinent reminder of the benefits of the pro-Europe project. Verdun, where 300,000 people died in 1916, has become the symbol of what union and cooperation among European nations can achieve. And it is only fair to admit that the crises and tensions of today pale by comparison with the events of the past. The cemeteries in this French municipality illustrate this well.

We should value the fact that the German chancellor and the French president walked over the same ground together where soldiers from both nations once fought each other with unparalleled cruelty, exactly 100 years ago. That Hollande and Merkel – like Mitterrand and Kohl before them – should meet at a funeral in Verdun, at a breakfast in Brussels or at a soccer stadium box in Berlin or Paris would have been unthinkable to any European of the early 20th century.

A Europe without the UK would be weaker, just as the UK itself would be weaker outside Europe

European Round Table of Industrialists

Yet this normalcy – which is so easy to get accustomed to, and even bored of – is one of the EU’s main achievements. This is what guarantees the kind of progress that we had never seen before; this is what has brought Europe the longest period of peace and stability since the end of the Roman Empire.

The Verdun act, which was presided by Merkel and Hollande, becomes particularly relevant because it comes less than four weeks before the British decide whether the United Kingdom will continue to make a valuable contribution to this project, or whether it will go its own way. When Hollande, speaking in Verdun, warned about “the forces of division, marginalization and isolation” at play in Europe, he was targeting an anti-European rhetoric that is simplistic and destructive yet finds fertile ground in societies angry at the political class in every corner of the continent, north to south and east to west.

Today, European industry leaders have taken a step against that nefarious message. In an unprecedented initiative, the European Round Table of Industrialists – a forum of heads of the EU’s top 50 industrial and technology firms – is asking for reforms to address the challenges, explaining with figures why the EU is important, and warning that unraveling the Europe of 28 would only serve to reduce citizens’ prosperity. This forum is also joining the Brexit referendum campaign with a message: “A Europe without the UK would be weaker, just as the UK itself would be weaker outside Europe”

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From the difficulties of the Greek crisis to the intervention in the Portuguese and Irish economies, not forgetting the refugee crisis, the EU is going through situations in which a proliferation of voices are blaming the Union and promising quick, easy solutions by breaking away or reshaping it into something different from what a Frenchman (Schuman) and a German (Adenauer) imagined as they stood on the ruins of a ravaged continent.

In both men’s vision, Britain always played a crucial role. As such, the point is not to alert about the calamities that will befall the British if they leave the EU, but to remind them – as business leaders are doing today – about the incredible achievements that they have secured for themselves and helped others achieve.

English version by Susana Urra.

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